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Recent false reports about the quality of this Australian winter’s flu vaccines again brought to light the fact it’s potentially been the worst year for flu on record. Fake news aside, pandemic preparedness is important for societies, businesses, governments and families.

Unlike a common cold, the flu can be debilitating and dangerous. Symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscle aches develop suddenly and normally last about a week. In some cases, severe illness and complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis can develop, which can result in hospitalisation and even death.

The flu can be especially dangerous for elderly people, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and very young children as well as for people with underlying medical conditions. If you are in one of these groups, you should discuss vaccination with your GP.

Each year as winter approaches, Australians are offered a flu vaccine based on the virus that has been circulating in the northern hemisphere over their winter (our summer). Although the vaccine won’t definitely stop you from getting the flu it will significantly reduce your risk by between ten and sixty per cent.

The reason for bad flu years is the increased prevalence of a particular strain of Influenza A known as A/H3N2. Assistant Professor Ian M. Mackay and Katherine Arden explain:

“H3N2 is a more changeable beast than the other flu viruses. New variants can even emerge within a season, possibly replacing older variants as the season progresses.”

Businesses can be badly affected by the flu and should take precautions to minimise its impact:

  • Encourage staff to discuss vaccination with their GP
  • Encourage staff to stay at home at the first signs of a cold
  • Consider work from home policies to minimise spread of any viruses
  • Educate staff in cough hygiene

Businesses should have a prepared pandemic plan. This includes ensuring your business continuity plan covers concurrent absence of up to 30% of your staff.

Further information is available from the Department of Health.